Dressing in drag to raise funds

Andy Plumley, UC Riverside’s director of housing services, as "Candy Plum" picks up dollar bills from the enthusiastic audience. Canon 5D M2. ISO 1600 1/90 @ f2.8

Over the years I’ve provided photography coverage of various events for the local university, UC Riverside.

Usually it’s a ground-breaking, a ribbon-cutting or portraiture of someone in the community for which they’re doing a story or feature.

Every now and then, I get something unusual and fun.

Dragalicious Drag Ball  March 31, 2011

Because this is a "PG-rated blog" I can't identify some of the performers by their extra colorful stage names.

Recently Andy Plumley, UC Riverside’s director of housing services, dressed in drag to raise funds for students.


As with most indoor events, lighting is foremost on my mind.

It’s always available light versus setting up and lighting with my  strobes.

I used my 80-200 f2.8 zoom for all these pictures.

My choice of cameras were the Canon 40D or the 5D Mark 2.

I chose the latter because it handles low light situations much better.

Also, since the light levels were very marginal, I decided having the 1.6x magnification of the 40D was going to cause more problems with motion blur.

Exposure was about between 1/90 and 1/125 sec @ f2.8 at ISO 1600.

Why I didn’t light it

The hall was very dark and crowded.

I didn’t want anyone to hurt themselves tripping over my light stands.

I was not there during rehearsal so I had no idea where I should be placing the lights to give me the best coverage.

Ideally I would have 2 assistants, one to watch each light stand.

Maybe next year if I’m given enough notice, I’ll mount some of my lights somewhere safe.

On this particular occasion, there were 2 spot lights about 45 degrees to the left and right of a stage manned by 2 persons.

As expected, once the program started, the house lights were off.

That meant I would be dealing with extremely contrasty side-lighting.

My strategy

I positioned myself so the performer was directly in front of one of the spotlights. This way I had a hair light to separate them from the very dark background.

Shoot from a position  where I could use one of the spotlights as a backlight or a hair light.

The tricky part was keeping the spotlight from shining directly into my lens.

Sucha DeLite, the hostess for the evening, warms up the audience with some stretches.

For the most part, that worked.

Once the performers left the stage to dance amongst the audience, the light became extremely unpredictable.

The audience was obviously enjoying themselves but lighting conditions made it difficult to capture them once the performers stepped off the stage.

The standing crowd would intermittently block the light from the spotlights and the performers would be in shadow or be only partially lit.

I would have loved to be able to show more of the audience reaction but when they aren’t lit, all I can do is to try and throw a flash into the mix.

Extremes of white and black in already contrasty light made exposure tricky. I tend to shoot jpegs and occasionally shoot both. When I do so, it's usually because I know the client wants to make huge prints.

Since it was packed near the aisles and stage, that wasn’t going to happen.

Next time, I will surely plan on using some superclamps to put some flash units up.

It may seem like a lot of trouble, but once they’re in place, they will give me more options.

By the way, the event raised $10,000 for student scholarships.